Six of us from around the country, one a chowhound from New England, are coming to Clearwater for a meeting - for most it is their first time in Florida. We have two dinners to arrange, and are looking for something characteristically 'Florida' that one would have a hard time finding elsewhere. We are sort of past the bar-scene age, and we don't get together often so we need a place where we can sit around a table and have a good conversation, not have to shout above a crowd to be heard, and have reasonable service (i.e. not take-out or self-serve)..
The first things that jump out at me from some of the other threads on this board as 'Florida' are the seafood (grouper, stone crabs, conch, other?) and Cuban/Caribbean, but some restaurant that represents modern cuisine well or traditional food too would be good candidates as well. We're all fairly adventurous eaters in both food and venue, and price, while a factor, is not a major factor.
I'm thinking one night a somewhat casual restaurant within 10-15 miles of Clearwater, and a second night at a more special place, anywhere in the Greater Tampa area; one doing seafood well and the other, well, maybe something different, or it could be fish again. Are stone crabs in season? Is that a mallet-pouinding fun experience or is it mostly a lot of work for a little food? Is grouper mostly a sandwich special?
Here are some of the places I was thinking of, based on some other threads here.:
Casual, near Clearwater:
Salt Rock Grill
Something more special:
Columbia in Ybor City (Cuban, but not sandwich?)
Bern's (is this a don't-miss only for big steak-eaters?)
SideBern's (any local connection here?)
Mise en Place (menu too big to do it well?)
Is the Kitchen Bar up and running anywhere?
Any thoughts on these or other recommendationa?